September 04, 2017

Labour Day, my union, and taking to the streets

Labour Day, or FĂȘte du Travail, has been celebrated in Canada on the first Monday in September since the 1880s. It originated with a long and bitter strike in Toronto in 1872, and specifically with a march that started with 2000 union members heading towards City Hall. By the time they arrived they were 10,000 strong, catching the attention of their employers, the public and politicians alike.

Those workers did not obtain their immediate goals of a shorter work week (one of their demands was a 9 hour day). In fact, many still lost their jobs. They did however discover how to regain the power they lost in a rapidly industrializing economy. The parade held in support of those strikers carried over into an annual celebration of workers' rights and was adopted in cities and towns across Canada. In 1894, Labour Day was declared a national holiday.

Paul Finch, Treasurer

On August 19th, my union, the BCGEU, took a leadership role in rallying members and citizens against fascism and racism in Vancouver. Hundreds of union members showed up on a beautiful Saturday to take a stand, to take to the streets.

Our group was addressed by Paul Finch, BCGEU Treasurer, and by Stephanie Smith, our President. After some milling about, we marched, led by Stephanie, to join a larger group of unionists and citizens united against fascism.

Stephanie Smith, President

VPD watching and reporting on the BCGEU

Oddly, it seemed to me, our group was watched by members of the Vancouver Police Department. I'm not sure what they expected from a mainly middle-aged group of union members, but perhaps old habits.... Or was it for our own protection? "Hey, we're the good guys here," Jeem said to one. The officer frowned and took Jeem's picture.

Unions gave us the weekend, various holidays, higher wages, and standards for employment. They also have a long history of fighting for those marginalized within our society and against the forces of darkness, be they corporate or political.

BCGEU and BCTF flags and members intermingling
With over 4000 anti-racist/anti-fascist demonstrators gathering on August 19th, we showed that together we are stronger and better organised than the fascists can ever hope to be, and that ours is a movement for tolerance and inclusion.

Union members must be vigilant, and always willing to take to the streets.

Photos by Jeem. Copyright 2017 by Jim Murray.

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